In your dreams you probably hoped to get Leeds, Norwich or Southampton in our first game to ease us gently into life down in the pits but life's not like that is it. Almost predictably, given the past couple of years, the season starts with the arrival of Wycombe Wanderers, a team that, after winning the Conference in 1993 have, after a couple of promotions and a relegation, at last reached the same league as us. Something that would have been unbelivable a couple (or three ) years ago comes to pass and this will be the first time that we share a League season together.
So for the third successive season we start the season with a home game against a newly promoted club. The last two were Scunthorpe (1-1 draw) and Swansea (2-0 win), both champions the previous year so this time we have it a bit easy with a side that finished in 3rd place, the last auto-slot from League Two.
And it's the wily old 56 year old Peter Taylor in charge, now in his second full season and doing very well thank you. As mentioned, his first year ended with promotion from League Two, but not after a lot of heartache on the final day. After a good season spent among the top two and even being 7 points clear at Christmas, they just scraped it in the end finishing with a 2-1 home defeat on the final day to Notts County. Meanwhile chasing Bury, seeing an upset on the cards at Adams Park, only needed a 2-0 home win over midtable Accrington to grab the 3rd spot, but it finished Bury 1 Accrington 0.
However close it turned out to be, promotion is what Taylor has almost turned into an art form with the Chairboys being his latest project in his career where he has become renowed for gaining unlikely clubs promotion. After cutting his teeth during non-league spells at Dartford and Dover he took over Gillingham in 1999.
He only stayed one year but nevertheless took the Gills into Tier Two for the very first time via a Wembley PlayOff in 2000 and followed that by doing the same for his next club Brighton in 2002. Not wanting the grass to grow under his feet he then quickly moved on to Hull and did even better there by achieving successive promotions to get Hull back into the Championship in 2006. It fact, you'll be pleased to learn that just about the only blimp in Taylors career has been the 18 months in charge at Palarse, resulting in a sacking in October 2007.Who Are Yeh!
Top scorer last season in a promotion year was Matt Harrold with a meagre 9 league goals, not a high-scoring team then. Taylor has done some re-inforcement with 6 new players being bought in. The only one you've likely to have heard off is Michael Duberry, ex-Chelski, and now installed as club captain. Of the other five, experienced midfielders Stuart Green (Blackpool) and Ian Westlake (Cheltenham) are the lastest. Chris Westwood (Peterborough), Joe Cobb (Leicester), Lewis Montrose (Wigan) are also new players.
But pre-season hasn't been too good for Taylor with four players likely to be missing on Saturday. New boy Westlake has hamstring trouble but the biggest loss will be that of Tommy Doherty with a suspected ankle ligament damage both injuries coming after Wycombe's 2-1 defeat by QPR last Tuesday. Doherty's problem will be most damaging as he was chosen League Two's second best player last season. Two others also not there will be Lewis Hunt and Lewwis Spence.What You Ort to Know
With the same man in charge as last year you would expect the same philosophy really, so the question is, what were their strengths last year. Well, the bad news is that as an away team they had the meanest defence of everyone conceding only 17 goals in their 23 away games and losing only 5, equal with the best in the division, champions Brentford and 4th placed Bury. And with their emphasis on defence there's always going to be a large number of draws and in fact nobody drew more games than their total of 18.
So they'll come to defend and looks like they'll be few goals. They won their first three away games last year and it was the middle of October before they conceded a goal on their travels.
And there's some unbiased (?) views from ex-Striker Keith Scott, now manager of Windsor and Eton whom the Chairboys beat 4-0 in their first preseason friendly. "If you look at the way the keep the ball, they've got good movement, comfortable at sitting in and defending and they've got good pace and movement when going forward."
As for their results so far, after Windsor they beat Eastbourne 1-0, lost to Dover 2-1, lost to QPR 2-1 and finally lost to Bristol City 3-1.
The man getting all the goals in pre-season is number 16 Jon-Paul Pittman, the only foreigner in Taylors squad, hailing from sunny Oklahoma City. He only managed three goals all last year but has already equalled that in pre-season.
No league games so the only previous encounter was their 1-0 win at the Valley in the 5th round of the League Cup during our last winter in the Premier back on a cold Tuesday night in December 2006. It was Les Reed's 6th game in charge (record to date, 1W 1D 3L) and he would leave the club the following Sunday. The chance to reach the semis of the League cup for the first time in our history failed to raise the team and their goal came in the 35th minute and we never recovered.
So, Parky, we know it was before you joined us but revenge is in order for that dreadful night.
A look at the team that day less than 3 years ago makes for some stark reading. Carson; Sanfoka, Fortune, Diawara, Traore; Rommedahl, Faye, Hughes, Thomas; with the two Bents up front. The subs were Myhre, El Karkouri, Holland, Sam and Hasselbaink.
To prove that things change fast even down at Wycombe's level as well, there's only two players, one from each side, who remain from that day 2 and a half years ago. Our own Lloyd Sam and number 10 from the Chairboys, Matt Bloomfield.
A lineup containing no less than 10 internationals failed to win last time against this lot so what chance have we on Saturday? That, of course, was in the rarified atmosphere of a one-off cup game. With serious league points up for grabs, this time they'll be no messing. Or so we believe.
And we are definitely due an improvement. Looking at our recent performances over the last 18 months, we won 9 games all last season - 8 league and 1 in the cup in a total of 42 games. Add to that a further 6 wins in 27 since the December 8 2007 3-1 win over Ipswich at the Valley which, of course, was the last time we won 2 games in a row. So that's the grand total of 15 wins in our last 69 games!
We can only hope that such appalling form is behind us now and to start with we have 3 new men in a new look defence with plenty of experience. In central defence we have the 35 year old Christian Dailly with 460 appearances for the likes of Dundee, Derby, West Ham, Blackburn and last season at Rangers and with 67 caps, the 6th most capped Scottish player. Alongside him will be our very first Spanish player in 29 year old Miguel Ángel Llera, who after 8 years spent with teams on the Spanish Med coast in the 2nd and 3rd Divisions decided bizarrely to move a year ago to Milton Keynes. Strange move for someone from the heady atmosphere of Seville, but he's come to his senses and after 34 games with MK Dons he's moved to the Valley. Buena suerte, Miguel.
And there's also a new right back in 26 year old ex-Leeds Frazer Richardson. Richardson has had a varied time in his 150 games at Elland Rd, several on the right of midfield. He can score goals and has the honour of scoring the first ever goal in the 'fizzies' in 2004 after the new sponsorship deal. Last year he was club captain and was the only player remaining at Elland Rd that had been with the club during their Premiership relegation in 2004 and would appear to be a good capture by Parky.
The midfield, to our great surprise, currently looks remarkably similar to last season with probably Sam, Semedo, Shelvey, Bailey and Racon on view. The continuing, apparently, takeover talks are reported to be holding up several deals not least regarding last seasons top scorer, Nicky Bailey. Shelvey, too, is still here and has very sensibly refused a Chelsea offer of megabucks, feeling its not the right move for his career ( he really wants West Ham) - shame Scotty didn't think the same.
So perhaps our only disappointment at the moment will be our forward line where Burton, or just maybe, Andy Gray will lead the line. Grays' transfer to Barnsley, agreed 3 weeks ago is still on hold and he played the first 55 minutes at Bournemouth before Burton came on in Parkys last chance at playing his first eleven. This was Grays first pre-season appearance, after his hip injury in January, and at least seems to signify that Parky is keen to keep him. But is he fully fit to play on Saturday? Probably not, after only one pre-season game.
And finally up there in the stand, at least for the first half, will be new assistant manager Tim Breacker. Previously Holloway's assistant at Leicester, he's done some scouting for us last year but does he know that Parky's contract runs out this very summer?
The team then will probably be:
Elliot; Richardson, Llera, Dailly, Youga; Sam, Semedo, Racon, Shelvey, Bailey; Burton.
Elliot; Richardson, Llera, Dailly, Youga; Sam, Semedo, Racon, Shelvey, Bailey; Burton.
Subs; Randolph, Mambo, Basey, Spring, Wagstaff, Dickson, McLeod.